Sugata Mitra walked away from TED2013 with an extra one million dollars in his pocket. He’s not a fundraiser, a financial investor, or even a smooth criminal. He’s a teacher.
It’s rare to see teachers make that kind of money, but his idea and curiosity earned him every penny of it. And now, Mitra can continue his work.
The story starts one day when Mitra, a teacher at a private school in New Delhi, India, asked himself if his private school students were smarter than the “slum kids” or if they just had more access to educational tools. All it took was providing a computer to children outside of his school and letting them do whatever they wanted with it to answer his question. Students quickly taught themselves how to use the computer, learn from it, and share it with other interested children.
Mitra started to pose more difficult questions – like DNA construction – and test it around India. The results were the same. Regardless of question, language, or time, kids always wanted, and taught themselves how, to learn the topic presented. He also explored how to amplify this effect and found out the amazing value of what he calls “the method of the grandmother.” Adult encouragement, via a webcam, helped support the children as they got stuck and found new discoveries. It created a person they could interact with outside of their normal circle that showed true interest without divulging any answers.
So where did all this leave Mitra? He has created a new theory on education – Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLE). The role of the teacher is not to teach, but to pose a question, provide a computer, and encourage the students to find an answer. It seems so simple, but so genius. And now, he plans to use his winnings from the 2013 TED prize to build a “school in the cloud.” We’re excited to see it.
Watch the video to see his TED presentation.